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Jenni Carlson: Thunder still needs to be physical in Game 2

by Jenni Carlson Published: May 18, 2011

DALLAS — Here is the dilemma facing the Thunder heading into Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals: Oklahoma City needs to kick up the defense after giving up 121 points to the Mavericks and 48 points to Dirk Nowitzki in the series opener, but after committing 27 fouls and sending Dallas to the free-throw line 36 times, it needs to back off a little bit.

How in the world is that going to work?

Not so well, if I had to guess.

At a time when the Thunder is searching for answers — how do you slow the Dirk Devil and contain the Mavs' shooters, find some offensive help for Kevin Durant and square this best-of-seven series before it heads back to Oklahoma City? — the most perplexing question is how to balance the need for more defense with the need for less fouls.

Something that Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after Game 1 underscores the quandary.

“We thought we defended them as close as we can,” he said. “Obviously, a little too close.”

If the Thunder was too close Tuesday night and it needs to back off Thursday night, that begs a question.

What happens next?

Do the Mavs score 150 points?

Does Nowitzki go off for 65 points?

The Thunder talked Wednesday about the need to adjust, to be smarter, to be aware of how tight the game is being called.

I buy the last two, but not the first. If I was the Thunder, I wouldn't change much of anything. I'd stay aggressive, I'd stay physical, and I'd pray for an officiating crew that swallows its whistles every once in awhile.

“Personally, I'm looking forward to a new group of referees,” Thunder defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha said.

Listen, I'm not here to bash Joey Crawford, Bill Kennedy and Zach Zarba, the officials who called Tuesday's game. No matter how you slice it, if someone puts two hands on a guy's back, it's a foul.

Period.

“The way we defended wasn't perfect,” Sefolosha admitted. “A lot of the fouls that got called were fouls.”

But ...

“A lot of the calls were questionable calls. Hopefully, they look at the tape and they just see that's how we play. We just play physical.”

They sure did these past two weeks.

The playoff series against Memphis was a heavyweight fight. The Grizzlies are as rough and tumble, grit and grind as they come in the NBA. They are much like their city.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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